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June 2006

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The reasons for Topline’s success

  • Lineveldt believes in the saying that the success of an independent retailer stems from having the right product at the right time at the right price.

  • The result you want, will depend on the effort you put in. Instead of looking over your shoulder at what the opposition does, the successful trader should concentrate on what he can do right.

  • It is essential that you keep up to date with all new product developments as the technical specification of products are changing all the time … that gives the independent retailer an advantage over the chains with their much higher staff turnover.

  • He insists on the distributor giving a full demonstration of all the technical features before he buys a new product. "We arrange video evenings with the distributors for our staff so that they can understand all the features of the product."

  • They have files with information on product developments and features that all new staff members need to study, before they are given a further grounding in selling techniques and other training offered.

  • Markets differ, he says, even between places as close together as Henneman and Welkom and a good retailer needs to be able to read his market and understand his customers.

  • You need to have a good grounding in finance and marketing, and then learn the technical aspects of the products, Lineveldt believes.

  • Staying on top with sense & technology

    Willie Lineveldt of Topline Sports in Welkom entered the sports retail industry because he was an entrepreneur at heart who wanted to get out of the corporate environment to "do his own thing". But it was the computer and business knowledge from the corporate environment that resulted in his success

    He was a qualified chartered accountant, working as marketing manager in the Tiger Oats Group, when he decided in 1972 to follow his entrepreneurial impulses and join his wife in running a book store in Henneman.

    As a former Free State rugby player, swimmer, water polo player and duathlon athlete, Lineveldt knew something about sport and they decided to introduce sporting equipment to the Henneman book store, which was renamed Boek en Sport.

    This was so successful that they opened a second sport store in Welkom (Topline), another in Bothaville and one more in Kroonstad.

    But, says Lineveldt, he soon learnt the truth of the Afrikaans saying ver van jou goed, na aan jou skade — far from your goods, close to your ruin.

    He also realised that the strength of an independent sports trader lies in a hands-on management approach, which translates into keeping an eye on the day-to-day running of the business. They consequently decided to close the Bothaville and Kroonstad branches and that he would run the Welkom sport store, Topline, while his wife would continue running the Henneman Boek en Sport store.

    One of the legacies of his corporate experience was the very early realisation of the importance of computers and stock management programs. Therefore, in 1975, when most people outside the corporate environment were not even thinking about using computers, he bought a computer — costing R17 000 in those days!

    More than 30 years ago, he employed a specialist to develop software to tell him when stock was getting low, which items sold and which one’s didn’t, and all the other information so necessary to stay afloat and minimise risk in this capital-intensive and seasonal industry.

    "If you do not have the necessary data, how on earth can you plan for next year or place futures orders?" he says. "An independent retailer can be at risk of losing his business if he makes the wrong decision with orders … but how can he make the right decision without the right data?"

    Since 1975 Topline has become an institution in this Free State town — they not only try their best to supply the Cheetah supporters with their team replica jerseys by phoning them when the new stock arrives, but offer a full sports service.

    They sell every conceivable sport product and brand — "our market is the middle to higher end technically advanced product," he says — but also provide a stringing service, bat repair service and knocking-in service.

    In their small sportswear factory they can do silk screening, embroidery and small run team kit, shirts and tracksuits that cannot be made profitably elsewhere.

    Like all independent traders, he is keenly aware of the price advantages offered by chains, but he is very positive that they can meet this challenge precisely because they are smaller and can therefore adapt faster.

    His 13 staff members all have their specialisation fields — his daughter, Belinda van Deventer, for instance, is the technical footwear expert who attracts customers from as far as Upington with her expert knowledge of running, golf, tennis etc footwear. They do not stock entry level athletic footwear, because he found that there is a higher demand for technical performance footwear.

    Even though he attained provincial colours in four sports and had been instrumental in forming the Henneman Sporting Council, Lineveldt believes the biggest mistake anyone can make is to think that you can run a sport store because you did well in sport. He rates his experience as marketing manager for a large group, his training as accountant and membership of the council of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut as better preparation for running a sporting store than his achievements on the sports field.

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